Early Judaism


After Solomon, king of united Israel and Judah, died c. 922 b.c.e., the northern 10 tribes seceded and reconstituted themselves as the kingdom of Israel. The Assyrians took its capital, Samaria, in 722 b.c.e.

The Jewish scriptures states that the Israelites there were deported and replaced by foreigners who worshipped the Israelite god along with their ancestral gods.

The exiled Israelites became known as the "Ten Lost Tribes". Traditional Judaism traces the immigrants to the Samaritans. However, Samaritans say that the biblical priest Eli usurped the high priesthood and set up a false sanctuary at Shiloh (c. 1090 b.c.e.).


The tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and part of Levi stayed with the true sanctuary on Mt. Gerizim, near present-day Nablus. Samaritans trace themselves to the loyalists at Mt. Gerizim.

Neither view is without objection. Assyrian records suggest that they removed only about one-tenth of the Israelites, and another part of the Jewish Bible indicates that kings of Judah dealt with the northern tribes after the fall of Samaria, without suggesting that the inhabitants were foreigners. The Samaritan view is first attested in medieval sources about 2,000 years after the alleged event.

A split between Samaritans and Jews perhaps occurred between the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (464–358 b.c.e.), who were said to have trouble with Samaria, and the time of John Hyrcanus, who destroyed the temple on Mt. Gerizim in 128 b.c.e.

There are two versions of the story explaining the split: A great-grandson of the Jewish high priest married the daughter of the Persian governor of Samaria, refused to divorce her, was exiled, and, in the later version, became high priest on Mt. Gerizim.

The Gospels of Luke and John and the Acts of the Apostles attest the Samaritans’ role in earliest Christianity and their conflict with Jews. However, when Jews fought the Romans in 66–73 and 132–135 c.e., Samaritans were on both sides.

The Samaritan chieftain Baba Rabbah gained independence for his people in the third century c.e. By this time the Samaritans also had their own scripture, a version of the Pentateuch differing from that of the Jews.

The conversion of Constantine the Great in 312 occasioned constant Christian persecution of the Samaritans. In 484 and 529 the Samaritans revolted against the Byzantines and lost thousands of their compatriots.

The Muslim conquest in the seventh century decreased persecution but made misrule constant, which brought the Samaritan population to 146 by 1917, when Samaritans began to increase their numbers by marrying Jewish women. Nonetheless, there were only 655 Samaritans in 2003. The State of Israel, reversing Jewish tradition, considers them virtually Jewish.

The Ebionites were Christians who kept the Torah. The name is derived from Hebrew ebyonim, meaning "poor", which seems to have been the self-designation of the earliest Christians of Jerusalem. The Ebionites were supposed to descend from these earliest Christians, having fled across the Jordan before Jerusalem fell in 70 c.e.

Ebionites often are distinguished from the Nazarenes, Jews who purportedly believed in the virginal conception and divinity of Jesus (Christ) of Nazareth and the apostleship of Paul. The Ebionites, by contrast, believed that Jesus was biologically the son of Joseph and because of his perfect life was adopted at his baptism by God.

They also rejected Paul, animal sacrifice, and meat eating, and they highly valued marriage and daily ritual baths. Several apocryphal gospels are linked with the Ebionites, including the Gospel of the Ebionites.

Both Ebionites and Nazarenes have been associated with the Samaritans, who call themselves "those who keep [smr] [Torah]". Nsr, from which Nazarene may be derived, also means "keep". The Ebionites have other similarities to Samaritans, such as a belief in a messianic successor to Moses and criticism of the Jewish temple.

However, that the Ebionites venerated Jerusalem makes it unlikely that they came from Samaritanism. The Samaritans, Jesus, and the Ebionites seem rather to have come from anti-Sadducee, anti-Pharisee Judaism, many sects of which had names derived from nsr.

The Ebionites’ position between Gentile Christianity and rabbinic Judaism became untenable, and they disappeared from history after 400. On the other hand Ebionite denial of Jesus’ divinity lived on in Arianism, Nestorianism, and Islam.